In a break biofuel companies expected, omega 3-rich camelina meal was approved for cattle feed Monday by federal officials.

The approval by the Food and Drug Administration comes at a crucial time for Montana camelina growers, now seeing oil from their seed crop tested in commercial and military jets. Meal from the crushed seed is a byproduct that growers have contended is a quality animal feed because it's high in protein and contains omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3s are essential to human health but can't be produced by the human body. When fed to animals, the acids in some instances become available to humans secondhand. In cattle, camelina as a feed encourages healthy weight gain.

Biofuel companies, which produce an abundance of camelina meal, welcomed the FDA decision that pushed the amount of camelina in cattle feed from an experimental 2 percent to 10 percent.

"Our investment in research and our large-scale production capacity have allowed us to bring camelina meal into the market at a sustainable level for beef producers," said Sam Huttenbauer, CEO of Great Plains Oil &Exploration Co., which contracts with Montana farmers for oilseed.

Sustainable Oils, which also contracts for camelina in Montana, said the FDA decision opens a new market for its product, adding welcome stability to the industry.

"Particularly for those of us crushing in Montana, that's great because one of the things we want, and do have, is local markets," said Scott Johnson, Sustainable Oils general manager.

"The more customers we have the more stable the business becomes. The meal is a pretty big part of the equation."

Contact Tom Lutey or 657-1288.